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Should Harford County government be exempt from its own tree law?

That's the question County Council members and administrators will be wrestling with Tuesday as they debate a proposed tree preservation law. A public hearing on the measure is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the council chambers at the County Courthouse in Bel Air.

The so-called tree bill, introduced May 14 by Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, would require developers to preserve some trees and to replace others cut down during development.

But amendments proposed by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, expected to beintroduced Tuesday, would exempt the Department of Public Works fromthe tree-planting requirements for work on water and sewer lines andlandfills.

William T. Baker Jr., deputy director of public works,division of engineering, said the administration proposed the changes because it is impractical to replant trees on the site of water andsewer lines because of root problems.

Also, Baker said, planting trees off-site or paying a fee in lieu of planting, would raise the cost of public works projects.

"Besides, Baltimore Gas and ElectricCo., C & P Telephone Co. and Comcast Cablevision Inc. are public utilities, and they are exempt," said Baker. "Under a dictionary definition, water is also defined as a public utility. Obviously nowadays, sewer is a public utility, too. Why were we excluded? We are just trying to have equal treatment."

But Pierno doesn't agree. She said her bill follows the mandates of a state tree preservation law passed in the 1991 General Assembly session.

Pierno said state administrators told her they didn't want county departments to be exempt from the state law.

"The state felt public works divisions needed to be more responsible for placing their lines," said Pierno. "They want to be able to go in and cut a swath of trees. But we cannot exempt them if the state did not."

However, Pierno said there is one exception. Under the state bill, counties may exempt public works departments from having to save some trees on landfills.

Otherwise, Pierno said, the public works department will have to abide by both state and county tree preservation laws.

"We try not to disturb any more trees than necessary," said Baker. "But it would be a problem to replant,because we can't plant trees on top of the water and sewer lines or the roots will disturb the lines."

Baker also noted DPW already has a tree-planting program in place. County residents who recycle Christmas trees are entitled to receive a free seedling.

"As it is, wealready give away 4,000 seedlings annually as part of the Christmas tree recycling program. Over a three-year period we'll give away 120,000 seedlings -- enough to reforest 120 acres of land. We don't tear up that much in putting in a landfill or widening a road," said Baker.

Other major provisions of the tree bill include:

* Requirements to reforest land at a rate of a quarter-acre of trees for every acre cut down.

* Giving developers credits for trees planted in flood plains and in Natural Resources Districts, where land is zoned as environmentally sensitive.

* Requirements that new trees be plantedwithin one or two growing seasons after each phase of a development is completed.

In addition to the Rehrmann administration amendments, others sponsored by council members are expected to be introduced Tuesday. Among them are:

* A clarification of exemptions for the farming and logging industries.

* A provision establishing a maximum two-year planting schedule for reforestation, replanting of trees, and afforestation, which is planting trees where few or none existed before.

* A credit for developers who plant shade trees 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

* Public works exemption from tree retention requirements for water and sewer line construction and landfill construction.

* Requiring developers who receive a grading permit or preliminary subdivision plan approval before the tree bill takes effect to provide a forest conservation plan if the one-year limit on those approvals expires.

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